A move from Manitoba as a child is a major reason for one St. Albertan’s keen interest in newspapers.
Janice McGregor, 67, said she began reading newspapers when, at the age of 10, her family relocated to Alberta.
“When we moved here, there was a little thing in Grade 5 called current events ... and you were supposed to start bringing in an article from the paper and stand in front of the class and talk about something in current events and then we'd have an exam ... and I flunked the test. I knew nothing. So at that point, I decided maybe I should start reading to find out what is going on and it stayed with me.”
McGregor said she has been a dedicated reader and strong supporter of the St. Albert Gazette since becoming a city resident in 1994.
The Gazette is among more than 800 publications marking National Newspaper Week, which runs until Oct. 7. The theme of this year’s campaign, organized by News Media Canada, is “Newspapers Matter Now More Than Ever.” The aim is to garner support for newspaper journalism – local and national – which is facing numerous challenges.
They include the shuttering of numerous community newspapers by major Canadian companies, online competition for ad revenue and accusations of delivering fake news.
At a time when there is a deluge of misinformation on the internet and social media, the Gazette offers accurate and balanced coverage of local issues, said McGregor, a former Alberta Agriculture worker.
“Looking at both sides and not forming opinion. Putting the facts out there and allowing people to make their own decisions, which I think is really important because I think critical thinking is a skill that we should all use and could use,” she said.
McGregor said she relies on the Gazette to provide not only coverage of timely issues but stories about the people who reside in St. Albert.
“I like the Gazette because you cover the waterfront. You cover the cultural aspects. You cover the sports. You cover the civic, political scene. You cover what I would call social justice issues, everything from Indigenous, church, that kind of thing. So to me, the newspaper provides that perspective of all the things that encompass a community.”
The longtime resident also believes one of the key reasons the Gazette has continued to build a solid reputation as a reliable news source is its employees, who live in St. Albert and the surrounding area.
“Because the reporters and the editorial team and the publisher are in the community, they’re invested in the community,” McGregor said. “You have to be accountable to the community that you’re living in and reporting in.”
An assistant professor in the Bachelor of Communication Studies program at Edmonton’s MacEwan University says despite increasing challenges, local newspapers play a vital role in the cities and towns they serve.
“People have always had a thirst for what’s going on within their community. That hasn’t changed. I think there still is that thirst for people to know what’s happening down the street, what’s happening down at city hall and that sort of thing,” said Neill Fitzpatrick during a recent interview.
The former Global TV and CBC journalist said the results of a recent survey by the U.S.-based Poynter Institute on the issue of media trust showed that while the public’s trust of major network news organizations is lagging, trust in journalists who cover stories at the local level has risen.
“That’s an encouraging sign, but I also think that it’s not surprising,” Fitzpatrick said, noting trust is the cornerstone of a relationship between a community newspaper and its readers.
“If the news readers in St. Albert know and understand that the Gazette’s going to tell them what is going on at city hall, going to tell them what is going on down at the Lacombe Park lake where the giant fish is being caught, they know that they can rely on the information from their local news.”
Fitzpatrick, who lives in St. Albert, says the recent spate of newspaper shutdowns across the country is disappointing.
“There’s been a number of examples in the last year of small community newspapers across Canada going under, most of them owned by bigger companies, of course, who have made the decision to not continue.
“I just think it’s a travesty because where are those people going to find out the news about their local goings-on and local political decisions and things like that. I think it leaves the door open for misinformation because there isn’t a newspaper to turn to or a journalist in their community who knows the issues.”
On Saturday, several visitors to Servus Place – perusing the latest edition of the local newspaper – praised the Gazette, which has been in operation since 1961, and said they are strong supporters of the long-running twice-weekly publication.
“It’s a great source of local information. Gets a thumbs-up from me,” said Henry Bower, who moved to St. Albert in 2015. The 57-year-old said he mainly relies on the newspaper to find out what issues city council is tackling and for the community event listings.
“I enjoy reading the human interest stories, the stories about people doing good things in St. Albert,” said Reva Miller, 35, as her son and daughter swam in the Landrex Water Play Centre on Saturday.
“I’m so glad we have this paper in our community.”
Turn to page 20 to read our editorial.
And to pledge your support for Canada’s newspapers, visit newspapersmatter.ca.
Getting the scoop on the Gazette
• Founded in 1961
• Publishes twice a week
• Saturday edition
Circulation: 21,600 in urban St. Albert
• Wednesday edition
Circulation: 28,800 includes rural communities, farms and acreages in Sturgeon County